Cougar Sighting No Cause for Alarm, Officials Say

Times Staff Writer

A mountain lion’s 3 a.m. sojourn near a high school in Rancho Santa Margarita was caught on a security video last week, but city and wildlife officials said there is no cause for concern.

“We expect mountain lions in the area, and mountain lions will be in the area,” said Steve Edinger, a spokesman for the California Department of Fish and Game. “There’s not necessarily a lot of concern.”

A camera installed by the Dove Canyon Homeowners Assn. outside the gated community captured the footage March 24. An adolescent cougar weighing 60 to 80 pounds was seen on the video crossing the stream at the Dove Canyon Horse Trail, 150 to 200 yards from Santa Margarita Catholic High School.

The sighting comes nearly three months after a mountain lion killed a bicyclist in Whiting Ranch Wilderness Park, six or seven miles northwest of the school, and seriously injured a second cyclist hours later.


The death of Mark Reynolds in the January attack was the first fatal mauling by a mountain lion in California in 10 years. Anne Hjelle, who was riding through the park with a companion later that day, was mauled by the same cougar but survived the attack. Friends said the woman continues to recover and plans to resume biking.

While sightings of coyotes and deer are not unusual in the foothills nearby, Rancho Santa Margarita City Manager Jim Hart said it was the first time he has heard of a cougar in the area.

At Santa Margarita Catholic High School, students were warned during morning announcements Friday to stay away from the horse trail.

Fish and Game estimates that 10 to 15 mountain lions roam eastern Orange County’s hills, although it is difficult to track exact numbers.


Researchers from UC Davis recently concluded that mountain lions rest near wilderness trails during the day, closer to humans than previously thought. The lions hunt from sundown to sunrise, when humans usually are not around.

Fish and Game also warned that spring is coyote pupping season, when the animals tend to become more aggressive.

“We always recommend people exercising safety around wildlife,” Edinger said. “Go out in pairs and be aware of your surroundings.”